Simon Bradbury

Since 2008, the Property Academy has carried out an annual survey of buyers and sellers who are actively involved in the moving process – the Home Moving Trends Survey.

This survey is a unique piece of research designed to deliver actionable insights that estate agents can use to make their businesses more effective. Participating agents distribute the survey link to everyone in their database who is or has bought or sold in the past 12 months, asking them for their feedback on the moving process and to understand their drivers, motivators and issues. In 2015 we gathered over 5,000 responses.

Simon Bradbury, Director of Thomas Morris Sales & Lettings participates in the survey every year – he has shared his thoughts on the Home Moving Trends Survey below.

How important is the Home Moving Trends Survey to you?

Without wishing to exaggerate, the HMT survey is very important to the overall strategy at Thomas Morris Sales & Lettings.

This survey, together with the annual Landlord & Tenants survey (also conducted by the Property Academy), is the only truly independent survey of customer opinions that we participate in. We do use other, more subjective feedback mechanisms such as online reviews, as well as our own internal customer surveys but by definition, these will contain an element of bias no matter how dispassionate and objective we attempt to be.

The survey also enables us to challenge ourselves and our teams with what we may perceive to be the case compared to the reality, as substantiated with actual data collected by a third party. So, for example, whilst there may be a perception that prospective sellers and buyers will only or mainly interact with the main property portals when looking for their next home and deciding which agent to sell through, the 2015 HMT survey shows that, on average, 55% of respondents visit an agent’s own website ‘…before inviting them to give a valuation’. This fact provides an indication as to exactly how important it is to ensure that an agent’s own website provides the appropriate information to potential house sellers and therefore helps to inform its design.

There may also be a perception that most potential vendors invite four, five or even six agents to provide an appraisal/valuation- something I often hear from negotiators.  This year’s survey shows that, in fact, 57% of the time it’s just a ‘two horse race’, and in over one in four situations only one estate agent is called out! This is an interesting and useful standalone piece of information and something that can only truly be validated with an independent survey of this type.

Of course, what an agent may choose to do with that data, how and if they may apply it and if it really is relevant, is entirely up to each individual.  My own opinion is that having gone to the trouble of encouraging participation in the survey an agent would be foolish to simply disregard the results just because they don’t necessarily correspond with their own expectations and subjective viewpoints.

Consequently, we at Thomas Morris Sales & Lettings put a lot of effort into organising the execution of the survey, briefing our Branch Managers well in advance and allowing plenty of time for issuing the survey to relevant clients.

Emphasising the importance of the survey to the management team is crucial and increases the chances of achieving minimum participation requirements from respondents.  This too is important in my view because achieving those minimum response levels increases the reliability of the data and qualifies participating firms for their very own ‘calibrated’ survey. This enables agents to make comparisons between their own results and to benchmark against national averages.

How do you use the data findings?

We use the data to assist in three main areas – training, advertising and P.R.

By ensuring that our staff is aware of what buyers and sellers really do think (this is often different from what they say they think!) we are able to train accordingly.

A very simple example of this is instructing valuers to always take relevant literature to an appraisal appointment to leave with the clients. This might seem very obvious but we discovered that sometimes this was simply not being done – a massive disadvantage as the HMT survey shows that 88% of respondents claimed to ‘…read the literature left by the agents’.

In addition, we train and coach our valuers to actually use the results of the survey at appraisal appointments.  To be able to factually demonstrate the honest views of previous and current clients (ideally calibrated against a national average) makes for a very compelling presentation – particularly as it is substantiated by an independent body. There are so many valuable facts and data points within the survey that the enlightened valuer can use to his or her advantage!

Every estate agent (and business for that matter) is looking to impress potential customers.  In my experience, Trading Standard Officers and even competing agents are increasingly on the lookout for false and unsubstantiated claims.

The HMT survey is a genuinely independent and now well-established research tool that benefitted last year from well over 5,000 participants.  Consequently, any claims about service levels for example, can be promoted without fear of contradiction or challenge – as long as they are indeed an accurate reflection of the survey results.

We have often taken the opportunity to refer our own adverts of this type to our local T.S.O prior to publication.  On every occasion, he or she has asked how our claims have been substantiated and has been satisfied with our response – sometimes asking us to refer to the survey itself within the advert.

We also produce a communication for public consumption which summarises the results of the survey. This is distributed via the news section of our website, an abridged version is published in the local newspapers and it is also posted in our monthly electronic newsletter.

It is also promoted via social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Again, the fact that, for example ‘…88% of respondents rated our overall service as “Excellent” or “Good” compared to a national average of 78%…’ is a very compelling piece of research and ideal fodder for any P.R. department.

Agents are always complaining that they find it hard to identify subject matter for blogs and articles. This survey provides excellent material. The content from the HMT survey can also be of interest to local journalists.

Do you have any examples of applying the insights, and how has this benefitted your business?

In addition to identifying strengths and weaknesses at a strategic level, providing useful insights into training requirements and giving us highly credible content for media messages, the HMT survey has enabled us to more accurately assess our R.O.I. for specific marketing initiatives. Here is one example…

In the 2014 survey the following question was asked, “What was the most important influence when choosing which estate agencies you would invite to provide a valuation?”

Nationally a seemingly tiny 2% of all respondents cited ‘online recommendations and reviews’ as the single most important influence for them in making this decision.  As we only use and promote one specific online review site, we were able to apply this statistic to other internal data (total number of valuations, conversion rates for appointments to instructions and average fees etc.) to calculate and identify that we generated over £80,000 of fees from the online reviews posted at this site alone during 2014.

This enabled us to compare any costs in the promotion and support of these reviews and arrive at a much more informed decision as to the actual value of such marketing initiatives. Without this data we would have either entirely missed such an apparently insignificant statistic or relied entirely upon anecdotal evidence which is so often biased and misleading. This analytical and factually based approach, combined of course with actual experience, and what one of my fellow directors calls “a dollop of common sense” is in my view, by far the most effective approach.

In conclusion I would urge estate agents and associated businesses to question their (often illogical) scepticism for such surveys – specifically because the results they produce are often counter-intuitive and for that very reason extremely valuable in providing a genuine competitive advantage over less enlightened estate agents.

Simon Bradbury
Director – Thomas Morris Sales & Lettings

The 2016 Home Moving Trends Survey will close on 18th November so there is still plenty of time to get involved. For more information and to participate click here


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